On the back of a plain, simple ballot which appeared in the dressing rooms of all 16 big league teams last week, there was a handful of plain, simple instructions. Four concerned the proper method for selecting the starting players, exclusive of pitchers, for the 1958 Major League All-Star Game. Since this was the first time the players themselves had been entrusted with suffrage, the fifth instruction contained a cautionary note. "Your league's team," it said, "will be representing you. Make your choices carefully."
The result, a sporting justification of the system of election by peers, was excellent. With the one major avenue of temptation securely barred—players could not vote for their teammates—the pros sat down one afternoon in their lockers and on rubbing tables and across equipment trunks, chewed the ends of their pencils, whispered briefly of matters concerning home runs and batting averages and then cast their ballots for the players they wanted to represent them in Baltimore on July 8. The two teams which emerged were good. More important, they were fair. The balloting has not always produced such happy results in the past.
Except for the early years, when the dirty work sometimes fell to the lot of the managers, the fans have named the All-Star teams and, since the game was originally conceived some 25 years ago for the pleasure of the fans, perhaps this was only right. But the vote, annually produced after weeks of great labor and reflecting sectional pride and prejudice to a marked degree—not to mention stuffed ballot boxes and uncounted ballots and miscounted ballots—was generally a miserable affair, bringing forth loud moans of anguish and piercing recriminations. Finally the Commissioner of Baseball, Mr. Ford Frick, had to step in and attempt to salvage some sense out of the mess. He ended up by dumping the whole thing in the laps of those best qualified to do the voting in the first place.
As disappointing as it may have been to that section of the populace which feels that an All-Star ballot without a squabble is something like Bardot without a bath towel—no suspense—the 1958 method of player selection appears to be here to stay. The team which has emerged is a refreshing one and emphasizes the fact that no one is in a better position to gauge the ability of a ballplayer than another ballplayer. At virtually every position, the man selected is the one best qualified by virtue of his performance this year to do the job. Not his performance last year or the year before but this year.
The National League starting lineup includes Stan Musial, Willie Mays and Ernie Banks, who were automatic choices. At third, Frank Thomas had to beat out impressive opposition, but who could overlook the league leader in home runs and runs batted in? And Del Crandall, having his best year, was clearly superior to any number of other National League catchers who seemed intent only upon having their worst.
The two most heartening selections—and two which would probably have been overlooked by the fans—were Bill Mazeroski and Bob Skinner. That Mazeroski was picked to play second base over Johnny Temple and Don Blasingame and Red Schoendienst would indicate the regard fellow professionals have for the young Pirate's more powerful bat and magical touch afield. As for Skinner, the players on seven other teams consider him one of the sharpest hitters around, and the fact that they are the ones who have to worry about him was reflected in the vote.
The same thing happened in the American League. Frank Malzone was an easy choice at third base, while the players took one look at Jackie Jensen's redoubtable year and put him in right field by a wide margin over Al Kaline, who has been picking up his average in leaps and bounds but remains far back of the Red Sox slugger in run production. They liked Bill Skowron's power (at first) over Mickey Vernon's consistent high average and evidently used the same critique in favoring Catcher Gus Triandos over Sherm Lollar. Nellie Fox nosed out another superlative second baseman, Gil McDougald, by four votes in the closest contest of all. And slick little Luis Aparicio, perhaps the best-fielding shortstop in all baseball, just managed to slip past Tony Kubek and Rocky Bridges, despite less impressive batting credentials, in another close vote which could have gone any one of three ways. As for Mickey Mantle, despite his slump, the powerful Yankee center fielder continued to hit home runs while his one serious rival, Harvey Kuenn, was hurt.
But it remained for Bob Cerv, as it did for Skinner and Mazeroski in the National League, to emphasize the justice of this year's system. It is almost impossible to leave Ted Williams out of left field on an American League All-Star team, particularly when one considers the tremendous esteem in which he is held by other ballplayers. Yet that is what happened simply because Cerv has been doing such a heroic job.
Perhaps the one truly questionable choice anywhere was Hank Aaron in right field for the Nationals. He has won batting and home run and RBI championships in the past but is slumping badly this year. Then again, maybe the players named him over Lee Walls, who probably deserved the honor, just to prove that they were human after all.